By Harriet P. Gross
Sometimes luck falls into your lap. A bit of paper finds its way into your hand.
I was in a small antique mall, waiting for the person in charge to get off the phone, when I noticed an interesting pottery plate. I picked it up, and saw something even more interesting underneath: A bulletin from the Freehold, N.J. Hadassah chapter. Date: December 1995.
Among the news about the usual things every Hadassah chapter did then, and still does now (Chanukah party coming up — pitching for new members and for life memberships, etc.) was the Freehold president’s message of the month, reminding me with a smart slap to the brain of something I shouldn’t have forgotten. It’s from a woman identified only as “Ida”:
“On Saturday afternoon, Nov. 4, 1995, the world was stunned by the horrifying news that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been shot. A short while later, the news that he had died on the operating table went through us like a knife. At his funeral, the gathering of dignitaries from all over the world had never been equaled before, and we came to the realization that this loss will impact the entire world…
“It was just three months ago that I sat with Hadassah friends, new and old, in the Jerusalem Convention center to hear Mr. Rabin accept the Henrietta Szold Award from Hadassah, and to apprise us of his ‘peace plan.’ … He was rudely interrupted several times by radical right-wing religious zealots. How were we to know that a short time later, a member of this group would take it into his hands to try to alter the peace process by assassinating Mr. Rabin…?
“While many of us listening were not wholly in agreement with all aspects of his plan, it would never occur to us to alter it through horrible violence…. We who live in the Diaspora cannot begin to know and understand how it is to live and work in Israel, but surely assassination is not the answer to any of Israel’s problems….”
Our Jewish holiday season is over now, again. The new year is here. There have now been 13 new years since Yitzhak Rabin died. In just five days, at least on our secular calendar, it will be his yahrzeit. A boy born on Nov. 4, 1995, the day of the assassination, may well be celebrating his bar mitzvah this coming weekend. Will he know anything, say anything, about Rabin unless we remind him? Will we remember to remind him?
Were you here when Dallas Jewry rallied at Congregation Shearith Israel to say Kaddish for Mr. Rabin? It was a very dark night, raining terribly. I was driving west on Walnut Hill; approaching Central Expressway, I felt a small jolt. I pulled over, got out of the car, saw that another woman had done the same. Had she hit me? Had I hit her? Who knew? There was no visible damage. We exchanged information, waved, went on. A few days later, the woman’s husband called, trying to extort some money, threatening to sue. I told him to go right ahead. Nothing ever happened.
Somehow, it also seems to me that, in matters of peace, nothing much has happened after Rabin, either. New prime ministers with new plans. Then, new disagreements. Very quickly, everything becomes old again.
When the antique-mall woman got off the phone, I asked her about this bulletin. She had no idea how it got there, not a clue what Hadassah is. She said I could keep it, if I wanted.
This bit of paper that is now mine really belongs to Frances Denowitz of Manalapan, N.J. — that’s the name on the mailing label. Betty Koplitz was the bulletin editor. Gloria Katz was chairing the donor dinner. Marcy Brahin was collecting donations of money and personal care items for the local women’s shelter. Michelle Wax, Freehold’s Jewish education chair, contributed an excellent short piece on the history of Chanukah. Members could call Carol Lercher for tribute cards and certificates. Beverly Tannenbaum sold the mah jongg cards: $4.50 each in 1995.
All these women are now memorialized in my mind, where they’ll forever be my reminders for the date of a tragic death. But it’s President Ida, she of no last name, who speaks to me most clearly. Despite her ambivalence about the prime minister’s plans, she ends with these words, so typical of Hadassah: “Let us remember Yitzhak Rabin as a true hero of Israel, and of peace.”
And let us all say, Amen.
By Harriet P. Gross